Bronco Stepping Down at UVA
I was preparing to write a preview for the ACC Conference Championship tomorrow between Pitt and Wake Forest (I'm going with Pitt), but Bronco Mendenhall changed my plans when he announced that he was stepping down as head coach from the University of Virginia just as happy hour was beginning last night. I know the fan base was beginning to get frustrated with the coaching staff, but this news was SHOCKING. While I'm not surprised that Bronco wanted to go out this way, I am very surprised by the timing. I do love that he was able to deliver the news to his staff and players before the media found out.
Mendenhall, who turns 56 in a few months, still could have plenty of football life ahead of him, but this doesn't seem like a football move. Mendenhall has been on a coaching staff for 30 straight years now, the last 17 as a head coach, and says he's ready for a change. Bronco, his wife Holly, and their 3 sons have always seemed like a very strong family that have wanted to inspire change for the better all around them. Bronco said that he began considering the move on Sunday, but as the next couple of days passed "there was a sense of clarity to me that I needed to step back from college football and reassess, renew, reframe, and reinvent, with my wife as a partner, our future and the next chapter of our lives".
Mendenhall came to Virginia for the 2016 season, inheriting a roster from Mike London that was in terrible shape. He went 2-10 in his first year in Charlottesville, but turned it around and made a bowl game every year since then, other than opting out of a bowl in the 2020 Covid year, and even won the Coastal Division in 2019 which sent the Cavaliers to the Orange Bowl that year. Overall, Mendenhall was 36-38 (22-27) during his time at Virginia with 4 bowl trips. The main hurdle that Bronco could never overcome was beating UVA's main rival, Virginia Tech. He only recorded one win in six tries, but even with that, I think most Virginia fans would agree that it has been a successful 6 years for Mendenhall.
Bronco announced that he will coach the Cavaliers in their bowl game this year, and then officially step down. UVA will find out what bowl game they're going to and who they will be playing on Sunday. Whatever is next for you, Coach, I know you will be great, and I wish you the best of luck.
What's next for UVA?
With a move that no one saw coming, UVA is already behind in finding a successor. This also is not a great year to have a head coach opening with so many big name programs also looking, or have already found, a new head coach as a lot of the best candidates have already found new homes. Virginia's AD, Carla Williams, has her hands full with this coaching search, but she must get started now in finding a replacement. Early signing day is December 15th and I expect a new coach to be in place before that. This could move very quickly.
For those of you that don't know me personally; even though I love the entire ACC, I am a UVA fan first. I actually briefly played at Virginia under Mike London, but after realizing that I was never going to be able to play over Morgan Moses, who is still playing for the New York Jets, I ended up working in the recruiting office and helping out the Graduate Assistants for a couple of years, so this news means a bit more to me than some of the other coaching changes.
He may not be the biggest name nationally, but my first choice for job would have to be Anthony Poindexter. Poindexter was an All-American safety and ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Virginia in 1998. After a short NFL career, he made his way back to Virginia as a GA in 2003. He remained on the staff through the 2013 season before taking the defensive coordinator job at Connecticut. Since then he's been the Co-defensive coordinator at Purdue and currently has that position at Penn State. There are already rumors swirling that new Virginia Tech coach, Brent Pry, wants to bring Poindexter in as his defensive coordinator. UVA cannot let that happen. I would love to see Williams bring in Dex, promote Marques Hagans to offensive coordinator, and keep it all in the UVA family.
Speaking of Marques Hagans, if UVA decides to keep this in-house, Hagans deserves to be interviewed. I don't believe he's ready to be a head guy yet and I would like to see him be a coordinator first, but I do know that he's a good coach. The development of UVA receivers has been outstanding since he's been the WR coach in 2013. Olamide Zaccheaus, Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois, Terrell Jana, Billy Kemp, Dontayvion Wicks, and Keytaon Thompson (among others) have shown incredible improvement as receivers under Hagans.
Another name from inside the program that needs to be brought up is Jason Beck. Beck has been the QBs coach since 2016 when Mendenhall came in and the offense has put up some amazing numbers in that time. He's also done an incredible job developing quarterbacks. He turned transfers Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins into stars and NFL quarterbacks, and has turned Brennan Armstrong into the nation's offensive yardage leader. Even if it's not with Virginia, I think Beck has a long successful career in front of him.
Tony Elliott- Offensive Coordinator, Clemson University
I believe Tony Elliott is going to get a head coaching job this year either at one of the top Group of Five programs or lesser Power Five programs. Even as bad as Clemson's offense has been this year, he still has an impressive resume. Elliott has been the Tiger's OC since 2015 and they have had one of the best offenses in the country since. Elliott was the recipient of the Broyles Award in 2017, which is given to the top assistant coach in college football.
Curt Cignetti- Head Coach, James Madison University
If Virginia decides to look to the FCS level, then the best option might be only 56 miles away. Cignetti inherited a powerhouse FCS program in 2019, but has kept the train rolling since then. He is 31-4 in three years there and has led them to the Championship game, the semifinals, and has them in the playoffs again this year. I know JMU would love to keep him around to lead them into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS level, but he could bring a winning culture to Charlottesville.
Dan Mullen- Former Head Coach, University of Florida
I'm not sure this would be a good fit, but I do know that Mullen can coach football. Man are the leashes short in the SEC. Mullen had the Gators in the SEC Championship game last year, and they fired him less than a year later. Mullen was 103-61 in his time at Florida and Mississippi State. It would be very interesting to see an SEC guy brought into the ACC.
Jamey Chadwell- Head Coach, Coastal Carolina University
Chadwell has coached and had success at almost every level of college football. He took North Greenville to the Division II Quarterfinals, Charleston Southern to back-to-back FCS Playoff appearances, and won the Sun Belt with Coastal Carolina last year. He is likely to land a Power Five job somewhere this year.
Charles Huff- Head Coach, Marshall University
Huff only has one year of head coaching experience, going 7-5 in his first year at Marshall, but he has two big items in the pros column for him:
Prior to landing the head job at Marshall, he was able to learn under Nick Saban as Alabama's Associate Head Coach.
He played college football at Hampton University, which could be a huge advantage in recruiting the Hampton Roads area.
Josh Gattis- Offensive Coordinator, University of Michigan
Michigan has the 2nd best offense in the Big Ten and is looking at it's first playoff birth if they can beat Iowa tomorrow, and it's got a lot to do with Gattis' offense. They can't get consistent quarterback play, but they are still able to move the ball. Gattis also has ACC ties. He is from Durham, played at Wake Forest, and was a GA at UNC.
Chris Beatty- Wide Receivers Coach, San Diego Chargers
Beatty has only been in the pro ranks for one year, but he has a ton of college experience and massive ties to the state. He went to Chantilly High School and has coached three different high schools in the state of Virginia (North Stafford, Salem (VB), and Landstown). Recruiting would not be a problem for him. He was also the Assistant head coach and running backs coach at UVA during Mike London's last year.
Will Healy- Head Coach, Charlotte
At only 36 years old, Will Healy has been tabbed as the next great, young head coach. He hasn't had the most success winning games at only 27-38 as a head coach, but he has shot up the ranks going from a QB coach at Chattanooga in 2015 to a Head Coach at the FBS level now. He took Austin Peay from 0-11 to 8-4 in just one year and got Charlotte to a bowl game during his time there. He also has Virginia ties, as he was a quarterback at the University of Richmond. I worry that he would see Virginia as a stepping stone as well.
There's always the possibility that a dark horse candidate emerges, just like it did in 2015 with Bronco Mendenhall, but Carla Williams has a tough challenge here and not a lot of time to do it. I will offer one piece of advice to the search: Please don't hire Bill O'Brien.